The State of Texas received more than $23 million from the federal government in 2018 to help enhance election security. The money is part of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to help strengthen election infrastructure security. According to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, only a portion of the money has been used prior to the midterm election.
A few hundred thousand dollars was spent to make security assessment software and cyber security training courses available to counties, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That includes a monitoring tool, intrusion detection systems, and fire wall protections for the statewide voter registration database.
Travis County is taking advantage of those tools. "It double checks where we might have any vulnerabilities and lets us patch and strengthen those networks," said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.
At this point, none of the HAVA money has been handed down to the counties individually. "Travis County decided not to wait until the money was already here to go ahead and take actions to protect, especially our voter registration database," said DeBeauvoir.
DeBeauvoir said the county is already using tools to detect interference.
The Secretary of State's Office said it expects the counties to use the tools distributed to discover any potential problems by 2019. It will use up to $15 million to remediate those problems by the 2020 presidential election.
"We would like to have everything done immediately, of course, but I do think everybody getting ready for the 2020 election is the right move," said DeBeauvoir.
Cyber security expert and Anfield Group CEO Chris Humphreys said any safety improvements are helpful. Still, he said he isn't convinced ballots and voter databases are truly secure. "At the end of the day, if those machines are out date to the extent of 2003, if they are, there is no test you can do that would make me feel any more confident that its secure," said Humphreys.
According to Humphreys, voting booth components made in foreign countries can also pose a risk to election security. He points to a recent report highlighting the numerous vulnerabilities in U.S. elections. Hackers were able to take control of voting machine and change votes. Humphreys said smaller counties with older machines or less money and resources might be most at risk.
In Travis County, DeBeauvoir said she is confident that Travis County voters’ ballots are as secure as possible because their voting machines don't run on Wifi or LANs. She said someone would have to have physical access to the machines to hack into the system.
While the voter registration information is on Wifi, she said it is constantly monitored for interference.
Still, she said the county never stops making improvements. "The truth of the matter is, it’s never enough," said DeBeauvoir.
None of the HAVA money will go towards replacing voting equipment because the State said there is simply not enough funding to go around.